It's that time of year - March has come in like a lion with it feeling chillingly like winter even as winter sports are winding down.
And while there is still plenty of madness to be enjoyed on the basketball court, and champions to be crowned on the wrestling mat, it's also time to starting thinking spring.
Before you know it, grass will be growing on infields all around the region, and the sound of umpires shouting "Play Ball!'' will echo through the air. And it won't be just boys getting ready to take their place on local sandlots. Players in the Keystone Girls Softball League will pull on their ponytails and spikes for the only softball experience of its kind in Altoona.
"So many girls start off playing baseball with the boys because they think there is no alternative,'' says league president Dom Fasolo.
Thanks to the KGSL, there is an alternative. Aspiring softball stars have the opportunity to start learning the fundamentals of throwing, fielding and hitting as early as age 5. As they grow and mature, they'll move from the Biddy Division to Ponytails, then up to Minors and Majors, enjoying competitive fastpitch softball through the age of 19.
Girls have the chance to grow up together on the softball diamond, learning the lessons and values that come with being part of a team: principals like trust, commitment and camaraderie.
Softball is a wonderful team sport for girls and women of all ages, shapes and sizes, and it's growing in popularity. Little girls can slip their hands into Jennie Finch batting gloves and Cat Osterman mitts, thanks to the success of Team USA in the last few Olympic Games. Unfortunately, softball was cut from the 2012 Olympics. But on an international level, the sport is making an active push to be reinstated for the 2016 Games.
Here in the states, NCAA softball is getting better and better with the Women's College World Series now broadcast in its entirety on cable sports television.
Maybe it's the speed and accuracy at which pitchers can windmill a ball past a batter or the expertise and instinct it takes to hit a moving softball coming at you from just 43 feet away. Or maybe it's the excitement of seeing a perfectly-executed drag bunt by a speedy lefty, a game-saving sliding catch by an outfielder, or a perfectly-turned double-play by a pair of infielders. Whatever it is, softball is exciting, and it's fun.
Luckily, there is an opportunity like KGSL for girls to get an early start in a sport that can be a life-long love.
The league is signing up 2009 players now. You can find much more information about the Keystone Girls Softball League at www.leaguelineup.com/kgsl.
Then, look for some girl power at Mill Run this spring and summer. You'll see that softball diamonds really are a girl's best friend.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.